Saturday, January 9, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Sidewinder featuring Part & Parcel by Abigail Roux


Nick O’Flaherty and Kelly Abbott spent years fighting side-by-side on the Marine Force Recon team Sidewinder, but it took civilian life to bring them together. Now they’ll set off on a new set of adventures, navigating the tricky waters of a new relationship and even more perilous depths to come.

Part & Parcel #3
Summary:
Nick O'Flaherty and Kelly Abbott had their happy ending in sight when a friend’s call for help almost ended with them losing it to the blade of a knife. Now, in the aftermath of near-disaster, both men are trying to heal and move on.

Moving on together, though, is harder than either of them realized it would be. Kelly struggles with simply being a lover instead of the Doc, while Nick is mired in his recovery. The distance between them inches along in stilted silence.

Desperately seeking solace, Nick finally gathers the courage to sort through the possessions his dear friend and fellow Sidewinder teammate Elias Sanchez left him when he died. Instead of comforting memories, Nick and Kelly find a stack of letters and strict instructions from Eli that prompt them to send out a call for assistance. With Eli’s letters in hand, Sidewinder sets out on one last mission together, seeking peace and absolution from beyond the grave—and from each other.

Click here to check out the Cut & Run Series where Nick, Kelly, & Sidewinder were first introduced.


Nick and Kelly may not quite be Ty and Zane but they are a very close second.  In Part & Parcel, we get not only Nick and Kels, but also Ty and Zane, Sidewinder, and through early flashbacks, letters, and memories shared around the table we get to meet Eli Sanchez, whose death started it all.  Eli's murder while hunting down the Tri-State killer is what brought Ty and Zane together in Cut & Run and eventually introduced us to Sidewinder, and then it all snowballed from there.  As someone from the Frozen Tundra, I don't like snow but this is one snowball I will gladly keep rolling and packing for as long as Miss Roux wants.

I don't feel I can go into many specifics about this installment without giving spoilers but I will say that I cried, I laughed, oh did I laugh a few times.  Kelly's emu oil comes to mind, I laughed so hard at that scene, tears were falling so hard that I couldn't see the print on my Kindle for nearly 10 minutes.  Then of course there is the whole berry/fruit/veg debacle that had me roaring too.  There are plenty of tears shed in moments of heart wrenching truths too.  Put them all together and you have an amazing story that even without a crime/mystery to solve, is worthy of our boys who have burrowed their way into our hearts.

If you are new to the Cut & Run/Sidewinder universe, you are in for a treat what I wouldn't give to be able to read them for the first time again, but they should be read in order starting with Cut & Run.

RATING: 

Shock & Awe #1
Summary:
After barely surviving a shootout in New Orleans, Sidewinder medic Kelly Abbott has to suffer through a month of recovery before he can return home to Colorado. He’s not surprised when fellow Sidewinder Nick O’Flaherty stays with him in New Orleans. Nor is he surprised when Nick travels home with him to help him get back on his feet—after all, years on the same Marine Force Recon team bonded the men in ways that only bleeding for a brother can. He’s very surprised, though, when Nick humors his moment of curiosity and kisses him.

Nick knows all of Kelly’s quirks and caprices, so the kiss was a low-risk move on his part . . . or so he thought. But what should’ve been a simple moment unleashes a flood of confusing emotions and urges that neither man is prepared to address.

Now, Kelly and Nick must figure out what they mean to each other—friends and brothers in arms, or something even deeper?—before the past can come back to ruin their tenuous future.


What can I say? WOW!! An amazing bridge between books 7 & 8 in the Cut and Run series that helps explain in better detail how Nick and Kelly went from team members to lovers. Short read but super packed with emotion and not too shabby on the sexing time either.

RATING: 

Cross & Crown #2
Summary:
When Nick O'Flaherty arrives at the scene of a double homicide to find he has a witness to the crime, he thinks it’s his lucky day. But when he realizes his witness is suffering from amnesia and can’t even remember his own name, Nick wishes he’d gone with his gut and put in for vacation time.

Then Nick’s boyfriend and former Recon teammate, Kelly Abbott, joins him in Boston, and Nick finds his hands a little too full as the case and his personal life collide. The witness he’s dubbed “JD” is being tailed by Julian Cross, a retired CIA hitman. To complicate matters further, JD forms an attachment to Nick that Nick struggles not to respond to as they search for the key to JD’s identity.

Trying to determine whether JD is friend or foe as they investigate the crime puts them on the trail of a much older mystery. When multiple attempts are made on their lives, Nick is forced to turn to old enemies and new allies to solve a centuries-old crime before he and Kelly get added to the history books.


I won't lie, Nick & Kelly are not Ty and Zane but they are damn close.  And they are a very intriguing pair all on their own, not to mention sexy and romantic too.

Having finally gotten off desk duty just in time for a big case and his boyfriend's arrival in town, Nick finds just where his priorities lie.  Julian Cross is brought in and you know that won't be easy sailing, but the boys handle it in their own unique way.

The mystery alone had me but when you throw in Nick & Kelly, how could I possibly resist?  I can't wait to see where Miss Roux takes this pair next and although I'm not one for spoilers, I will say this.  I really can't wait to see how Ty reacts to his friends' upcoming occupation turn.

RATING: 


Part & Parcel #3
Chapter One
1999
Lights flashed. People screamed in the distance. Nick’s back hit the ground, and it was all blue sky and smoke. His body was cold when it should have been hot, going colder by the second. The sounds faded, and then the light, and there was peace for a while. Just sweet peace.

When Nick woke, pain flooded him like he’d never felt before. He jerked, fighting for breath, clawing at whatever was burning inside his right arm.

“Hold him down!” someone yelled. “Jesus Christ! Hold him!”

“Irish,” someone breathed close to his ear. A smooth voice, one that meant safety and home. “Irish, it’s Six. You got to be calm, bud.”

Nick immediately tried to still himself. If Ty was telling him to calm, it meant his panicking was a threat to someone. Where were they? Were they still out in the field? Were they prisoners again? Pain burned through him. He gritted his teeth and fumbled around for Ty’s hand, desperate for something—anything—to ground him.

“Six.” Nick gasped, barely recognizing his own voice.

Ty’s fingers were hot in Nick’s hands, but Ty’s grip was unwavering. “We’ve got you.”

“Who the fuck let this bag run out?” someone else shouted. Nick belatedly recognized Kelly’s voice, and damn, he sounded pissed. “Get out of the fucking way! You can’t do your job, I’ll do it for you!”

Ty’s face swam into Nick’s flickering field of view. He had Nick’s hand in both of his, holding Nick’s fingers close to his face the way they’d held each other every night in captivity. Nick clung to him, breathing hard, trying not to beg for help.

“You’re okay. Hold on, Irish.”

Nick stared into his eyes, clutching at him until cold began to soak into his arm. It climbed through his veins, cloying, cloudy, seeping into every part of him and pushing out the heat and pain.

“That’s it, bud,” Ty whispered. He petted Nick’s face, thumb resting against Nick’s cheekbone. “You’re okay. It’s all okay.”

Nick closed his eyes, trusting Ty to be telling him the truth.

When he woke again, it was to a much more pleasant world. The pain was just a distant whisper at the edges of his being, and the panic had left him with Ty’s assurances. He turned his head, squinting against the bright lights. He could hear someone sweeping, accompanied by the tinkle of broken glass and the rustle of plastic. And of course the beeps and whirring of monitors that he knew all too well.

“O’Flaherty?” Kelly said carefully. His voice was a whisper, as if he wasn’t sure that Nick was really conscious and didn’t want to wake him if he wasn’t.

Nick turned his head to find Kelly sitting on the other side of his bed, a tentative smile on his face. “Hey, Doc.”

Kelly set aside the book he’d been reading and scooted his chair closer. He rested one elbow on the edge of the bed, giving Nick a small smile. “Welcome back, Staff Sergeant.”

“The others?”

“All okay. You were the only casualty.”

“What’d I lose?”

“Your pride,” another voice answered. It took Nick far too long to focus on the man who’d come up behind Kelly. Elias Sanchez bent closer, as if he realized Nick couldn’t see him. “Not only did you get yourself shot, but you also lost our bet.”

“Bullshit,” Nick grunted, closing his eyes again.

Eli and Kelly both chuckled at him. Eli tapped Kelly on the shoulder. “Six needs you for his report. I got this.”

Kelly gave Eli his chair, offering Nick a gentle pat on the chest. “I’ll come check on you when we’re done.” He pointed at the machinery, shooting Eli a look he probably didn’t think Nick would notice. “Watch his pain. If it tops again, he’ll do even more damage to himself.”

The sweeping sound stopped for a moment. “If he’s going to fucking trash my MedBay again, we’ll tie him down.”

“Come near him with those restraints and I’ll fucking kill you,” Kelly snarled.

Eli squeezed Kelly’s shoulder. “Doc.”

“Nobody fucking ties him down,” Kelly growled, pointing one long finger at whoever had been given the task of cleaning up whatever mess Nick had made in his earlier rampage.

Eli waved Kelly away, and Kelly left them with one last look at Nick. Nick watched him go with a frown. He wasn’t sure why Kelly was so opposed to the restraints. Hell, last time he’d been injured Nick had asked them to restrain him because he’d almost killed the corpsman who’d been there to administer a blood test and had woken Nick too abruptly. The restraints were just to keep everyone safe, including Nick.

“Why’s he angry?” Nick asked Eli.

“You been talking in your sleep,” Eli said with a reassuring smile. It didn’t reach his eyes, though, and from the sadness in them Nick knew immediately what he must have been saying. Heat flushed across his cheeks. “None of us knew how much all that shit stuck with you and Grady. You never talk about it, so we figured you were okay. But you called out for Ty a couple times, so they had him come in here. You were . . . begging.” Eli winced and lowered his head.

Nick fought hard to swallow, forcing himself to keep looking at Eli so Eli wouldn’t know he was ashamed of it.

“Grady said he has the same dreams, told us a little about what you were probably dreaming.”

“Oh,” Nick said weakly, his eyes going unfocused because it was just too much effort otherwise.

“Doc didn’t take it too well. Hell, none of us did.”

Nick recalled the flash of anger in Kelly’s normally placid gray eyes and shivered.

“Hey Lucky, you ever need to talk that shit out, I got you. You know that, right?”

Nick met his eyes and nodded, earning himself a gentle pat on the head as Eli leaned closer. Nick stared at Eli for a few seconds, trying to remember what had happened this time after he’d been hit. It was all a haze of fire and drugs.

Eli began to grin, his dark eyes finally sparkling. “First person to get hurt this tour, that was the deal.”

“No.”

“Deal’s a deal, papá.” He reached into the pocket of his uniform and withdrew a black permanent marker. “It’s for your own good.”

“Oh God,” Nick grunted, and he could only give a long-suffering sigh as Eli began a Sharpie doodle on his forearm. “If you draw a dick on me . . .”

“Would I do that?” Eli asked without looking up from his work. “I been practicing that Celtic knot stuff you showed me. This is going to be classy as shit.”

Nick couldn’t help his smile as he closed his eyes, relaxing as Eli’s familiar presence filled him with warmth and safety. “You’re classy as shit.”

“Oohrah!”

* * * * *

February 22, 2013

Nick stepped over the body of the man he’d just killed and reached for the car Ty and Zane were trapped inside. He’d seen the NIA agents closing in on the squad car, and he’d moved as fast as his ruined knee allowed to get to them. The relief when he reached for the door locks was the first good thing he’d felt in weeks.

And then someone grabbed him from behind.

“No!” Ty cried. He banged on the glass, struggling with the handle. “No!”

A knife drove into Nick’s side before he could react. His eyes were locked on Ty’s, everything moving in slow motion, the streets of Miami morphing into a desert with streaks of military lightning overhead. The attacker twisted the knife to bring Miami and the real world crashing back down on him, and Nick screamed.

Ty echoed it with an anguished cry and threw himself against the opposite window, slamming his fist into the already cracked glass over and over as Nick sank to his knees. He bowed his head, losing sight of his friend, losing sight of everything. He was still being held around the neck by the man with the knife, and Nick’s mind raced for a way to free himself. His attacker yanked the knife out of Nick’s side and plunged it in again, wrenching another scream from Nick. He arched his back, eyes squeezed shut as tears streaked down his face. His fingers grazed the KA-BAR he’d stashed in his boot, and he gasped for one last lungful of air.

He flipped the knife in his palm and jammed it into the killer’s throat, then folded over and desperately grasped for the wound at his side to stanch the bleeding. Black SUVs were drawing near, full of more NIA agents with guns and knives who no doubt wanted to ask Ty and Zane some very pointed questions.

If the rest of Sidewinder was going to help them, they would have reached Nick by now. They’d obviously been held up in battle or, God forbid, hadn’t made it out alive. Nick was on his own, Ty and Zane’s lives in his bloody hands.

Nick began crawling for the cruiser, keeping low as the rattle of gunfire from further down the street got closer. His fingers reached the gun he had dropped during his tussle. There was so much blood, he didn’t know if he’d be able to grip the damn thing. He collapsed in the debris, holding on to the handle of the knife in his side and crying out in agony. It would be easy to give up. It would stop hurting if he just gave up.

He met Ty’s eyes through the glass of the police cruiser. He would never make it to the door. There was only one way to get Ty and Zane out of that car, and as they stared at each other, Ty seemed to read his mind. Nick reached out with a trembling, bloody hand and aimed the gun as Ty and Zane ducked out of sight.

The shot was excruciating. Nick seemed to feel every last inch of his broken body as the aftershock tore through him. When he came back to his senses, Ty was grasping at him, tugging him, trying to help him up. Nick tried to get to his feet, but he couldn’t even feel them. He reached out for the other man nearby for extra support, surprised to see Eli there in the middle of Miami. But his hand passed right through him: there was nothing there but shadow, and Nick collapsed in Ty’s arms.

Ty fell to his knees again, holding Nick to him. Nothing hurt anymore. Nothing.

Nick stared up at the sky. It was the color Kelly’s eyes could sometimes turn. Kelly . . . he hadn’t been able to say good-bye. He wouldn’t be able to. This was it.

He focused on Ty, nodding in acceptance. This was it. “Okay.”

“It’s okay,” Ty whispered. His fingers tightened in Nick’s shirt, cradling him in his lap. “We’ll get you all patched up and you’ll be fine. Zane, help me!”

Nick tried to speak, tried to tell Ty this was the end, that it was okay. The gunfire was closer, and Ty hunched defensively.

“Run, Ty,” Nick managed to get out.

“We’re not leaving you here,” Ty snarled. He was angry, but Nick understood. They’d been angry at Elias Sanchez for dying on them, too.

Nick struggled for more words. He hadn’t given his life for Ty and Zane just to see them die with him in the street. “I’m already dead, babe. Go.”

“No!”

Nick couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. They fell shut against his will, Ty’s face against the cheerful sunshine and the silhouette of Eli standing over him and grinning the last things he saw. “See you on the other side, brother.”

* * * * *

March 2, 2013

Kelly didn’t sleep much lately, and when he did, his dreams were full of terror and pain. He woke up every time thinking he’d lost Nick, confused and unsure of what was real and what merely was his deepest fear haunting him. He woke up exhausted, and scared to drift back off for fear that the man sleeping in the hospital bed next to him wouldn’t be there when he woke next.

The last time he’d slept had been for about three hours that morning. He’d curled up on the uncomfortable recliner, too spent to fight sleep any longer, and left the other guys to keep vigil at Nick’s bedside. Zane Garrett had been there when Kelly awoke, sitting in a wheelchair, peacefully reading a book at Nick’s side and occasionally talking to Nick about what he was reading. Kelly had sat and watched them for a few minutes, sadness engulfing him despite assurances from the doctors that Nick would wake at any time.

He hoped Nick could hear them. He hoped Nick knew that they were all there with him, each of them trying to make up for the fact that they’d left Nick behind, alone in the street with his life bleeding out of him.

Kelly sat by the bed now, paying little attention to the sounds of the machines monitoring Nick’s status. Owen Johns was curled on the tiny bench under the window that passed as a couch, snoring softly. They were all exhausted and still recovering from their own injuries, but no one would leave, so they were taking shifts. The others had all gone for lunch at Kelly’s insistence. He appreciated them being there, and he knew they needed to be there as much for their sake as for his or Nick’s. They all loved Nick. They all thought they’d lost him when they’d left him behind. They all deserved to be there when Nick woke. But Kelly needed a little time alone. Time to be alone with himself, with his thoughts and fears and hopes. Time to be alone with Nick, who had yet to wake four full days after nearly bleeding out in the street.

Owen being asleep on the other side of the room didn’t bother Kelly. At least he didn’t have to pay him any attention, and could instead focus on Nick. His friend. His lover. His would-be fiancé who’d never truly proposed.

Kelly smiled sadly. He held Nick’s hand in both of his and traced the tip of his finger over scars and bruises. Nick’s hands had paid for all the damage he’d done to the people trying to hurt them. Kelly’s chest swelled with pride and pain. He flipped Nick’s hand over, following the life line on Nick’s palm. Nick had a knife scar on the back of his hand, and it trailed from his wrist up toward the webbing between his thumb and forefinger, connecting almost perfectly with his life line. Together, they almost encircled his entire hand.

Kelly had always joked about Nick’s scars meaning he’d live forever. Now he wasn’t sure it was all that funny.

He could hear Nick’s laugh in his mind, though. See the way his eyes crinkled when he grinned. It was so real and so close it seemed like he could reach out and touch. But he might never see or hear Nick’s laughter again, and Kelly wasn’t handling it very well.

He sighed heavily as his finger trailed along the scar, his vision blurring with tears and exhaustion. Nick’s fingers twitched, giving the illusion that he was brushing Kelly’s hand affectionately.

Kelly quirked his lips, trying not to be upset by it.

Nick would wake up. He wasn’t dying. He would come back to them, full of laughter and joy, just like he always did.

“Hey, Doc.”

Kelly’s head shot up at that simple, hoarse whisper, his eyes wide, his heart suddenly racing.

Nick was staring at him.

Kelly pushed to his feet, sending his chair screeching back. Owen leapt up at the noise, crouching, prepared for battle. “What?” he cried.

Kelly leaned over Nick, reaching for his face. When his fingers touched Nick’s skin, Nick’s eyes fluttered closed.

“No, no, Nicko, stay awake,” Kelly begged. He felt Owen moving but couldn’t tear his attention away from Nick’s face to see what he was doing.

Nick opened his eyes again. They were clear and green, but had faded like when Nick didn’t feel well. “Are you okay?” Nick asked him.

Kelly held his breath for a moment, trying to think through the elation to find a response. He finally huffed a laugh and nodded, pressing his forehead to Nick’s cheek. “Welcome back.”

“Where’s Eli?” Nick asked, his eyes closed, his voice tortured from days without speaking.

Kelly’s heart stuttered, and he glanced up to meet Owen’s eyes. Owen’s mouth moved, but no sound came out. He finally swallowed hard and nodded. “I’ll go get Six.”

Kelly returned his attention to Nick, running his fingers through Nick’s hair. “Eli’s gone, bud,” he whispered.

Nick’s forehead furrowed and he squeezed his eyes tight. Then he took in a deep breath and opened them again. “That’s right.”

The relief that flooded through Kelly was bittersweet. Where had Nick been for the last few days, lost in his memories?

“What day is it?” Nick asked, his voice so rough it was almost painful to listen to. “Did I miss Opening Day?”

Kelly laughed, knowing he was dangerously close to hysterical now that the weight of worry had been lifted. He hugged Nick closer, smooshing his face against Nick’s. Nick’s hand settled carefully on Kelly’s back.

“No, you didn’t miss it,” Kelly finally managed. “Still lots of time.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Nick whispered as his fingers curled into Kelly’s shirt.

His breathing was more labored against Kelly’s cheek, and his grip on Kelly’s back began to tighten, his nails digging in. The beeping of his monitors, which had faded into background noise for Kelly about two days ago, began to encroach on his awareness, beeping going faster, a warning Kelly knew all too well.

Kelly pushed away from Nick just before the machines went into a full-blown panic and Nick twisted on the bed, writhing and gasping. Kelly shoved his chair aside, sending it toppling sideways, as he ran for the door to call for help.

He should have known a gentle reunion wasn’t Nick’s style.

* * * * *

March 4, 2013

It was early March in Boston, and Kelly’s fellow mourners were forced to brave a brisk wind as they gathered in the cemetery. Many in the crowd were in uniform, shined and pressed and stoic as befitted the funeral of a retired member of the Boston Police Department.

Kelly had to squint against the sun to see the small crowd around them. The wind ripped at his lapels, ruffled his hair, and made his eyes water. He wasn’t the only one. Several of those around him were fighting the stiff breeze, using handkerchiefs and sunglasses to fend it off.

He turned his eyes back toward the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. Nick’s four sisters, only two of whom Kelly had actually met, stood together, singing a beautiful version of “The Parting Glass.” The youngest one got choked up before the second verse and wasn’t able to continue. She stood with her head lowered, tears streaming down her cheeks, as her sisters continued the song. Watching her, Kelly couldn’t really feel anything. No empathy, no sadness. Nothing.

Nick moved beside him, jostling his shoulder as he stepped out of line from the others. He was relying heavily on a cane, but something about his perfectly pressed uniform contrasted with the limp and gave him a gravitas that he probably wouldn’t care to lend intentionally to Brian O’Flaherty’s funeral.

Nick took his youngest sister by the arm, straightening her up without a word. She buried her face in his chest, holding to him as he sang the next verse with them.

Kelly shivered at the way Nick’s eyes never strayed to the coffin, how he stared right over the crowd and sang to help his sisters say farewell to a man who didn’t deserve it.

Kelly was still watching Nick when the song ended. He was still watching him when the crowd began to disperse. Nick stood alone as his sisters moved away to throw dirt into the grave. Kelly frowned worriedly when Nick didn’t follow them, and he counted to five before he stood and joined Nick.

“You okay?” Kelly whispered. He took Nick’s elbow, standing close enough that Nick leaned against him with a huff.

“I’ll be fine,” Nick grumbled. He snickered and met Kelly’s eyes. “She moved away on me and I realized I was stuck without someone to lean on.”

Kelly scowled. Nick’s condition was no fucking laughing matter, but Nick kept on making jokes out of it. It was his way of coping, but Kelly wasn’t laughing. He wound his arm around Nick’s waist, and Nick wrapped an arm around Kelly’s shoulders, using the cane and putting a lot of weight on Kelly as they moved together toward the line of waiting vehicles. Nick had chosen to ride in his own car rather than join the family in the procession.

“Nicholas,” a woman called from behind them. Kelly glanced over his shoulder to find Nick’s mother there. She’d remained mostly stoic throughout her husband’s service. In fact, the only person who’d seemed especially upset over Brian’s passing had been their youngest daughter, Nessa. She was only a year or two out of high school—Kelly couldn’t quite remember how old she was—and she was inconsolable over the loss of her father.

Kelly had fought to find sympathy for her. But that girl had known a very different father than Nick had known.

“Ma’am,” Nick said without turning around. He had his head lowered, his arm still around Kelly’s neck, but tightening as he tensed.

“You’re coming, aren’t you?”

Kelly shook his head. “He’s done too much already. I have to get him home.”

“He only had one father,” she snapped, hard eyes on Kelly.

“I’ll see you there,” Nick said over his shoulder, his fingers tightening on Kelly’s jacket before Kelly could respond.

His mother moved away, giving Kelly another look that told him exactly what she thought of the fact that her only son had a boyfriend.

“How the hell did two such horrible people come up with something amazing like you?” Kelly snarled.

“Murphy’s Law,” Nick grunted as they continued on toward his Range Rover. “We’ll stay long enough for people to see my face. Then we’re done.”

“Okay,” Kelly whispered, wondering how the hell Nick had spent his entire life like this, doing what was expected of him to appease people who treated him horribly. It was brand-new insight into Nick’s otherworldly stores of patience. Kelly hugged him closer, and Nick hissed and stumbled a little. “Sorry! Shit, I keep forgetting about the stitches!”

“It’s okay,” Nick said, his voice strained as they reached the car. He lifted his jacket out to peer at his side, where just ten days ago an attacker had stabbed him. Twice. There was blood on his otherwise pristine white shirt. “Hey! Looks like an excuse not to stay too long at a sorry-your-shitty-dad-died party, huh?”

Kelly rolled his eyes and helped Nick into the car.

* * * * *

“You okay?” Kelly asked yet again as they sat in the dim back corner of a bar several blocks from Nick’s childhood home. It was his father’s local watering hole, where the mourners had come to pay their last respects after the coffin had been lowered into the ground.

Nick shook his head, staring at the full glass of whiskey in front of him. He hadn’t taken a sip. It was a drink meant to honor his father’s memory, and he intended to let it sit there. How many times had he been sent to this tavern to find his father and tell him it was time to come home? How many times had he been shouted out of this bar and run home, praying he’d get there before his dad did?

He tapped two fingers on the table, rattling the drink. “Let’s go home, huh?”

Kelly didn’t question him; he merely nodded and pushed his chair back to stand. He helped Nick get to his feet, handing him his cane and offering his arm. It’d been mere days since Nick had been released from the hospital in Miami. Kelly had been with him every second of his recovery, and this routine was one they’d repeated at least five times a day since Nick had woken. He appreciated Kelly being there, but for the first time in their long history of fighting side by side, Nick was ashamed of needing help. Kelly wasn’t a corpsman anymore, he was Nick’s boyfriend.

When Kelly had called his sister Kat to let her know that Nick was alive, Kat had told them about Brian. He was dying, in the hospital with mere days to live. Nick hadn’t made it home in time, nor had he especially tried to, and he knew without a doubt that his mother would never forgive him.

Nick was having a hard time pretending to be the grieving son.

He leaned on Kelly as they threaded their way through the small crowd, spared from the obligation of saying good-bye or shaking hands with his late father’s friends. Everyone knew what he’d been through, everyone knew he probably still should have been at home in bed, if not in the hospital. Everyone knew he was still weak.

Nick fucking hated it.

“Nicky,” a man in uniform said as Nick and Kelly neared the front door. Nick stopped, and Kelly discreetly stepped away so Nick wasn’t leaning on him as he faced the man. “How are you, son?”

Nick gave a curt nod in answer. He was at least five inches taller than the man, but he remembered having to crane his neck to see his face when he stood in their living room waiting for Nick’s father to go to work.

“I was surprised to see you out there.”

Nick didn’t respond. He merely stared, waiting.

His silence apparently made his father’s old partner nervous, because the man continued talking, his words faster and his fidgeting more pronounced. “Everyone knows what you tried to do for your daddy. Even if that liver didn’t take, you gave him one more year. Him dying wasn’t your fault, Nicky.”

Nick made a clicking noise with his tongue and stood a little straighter. “I know,” he said, voice just as flat as his expression.

He turned before the man could say more, reaching for Kelly’s arm as they made their way out of the pub.

“Wasn’t your fault,” Kelly grumbled under his breath. “Why the fuck do any of these asshats think you’d be sitting around blaming yourself because your dad’s body rejected a piece of liver you risked your life donating?”

“Because they think it’s my fault,” Nick said blithely, his head down to watch his steps on the uneven sidewalk.

“You don’t really think that, do you?” Kelly asked, sounding half-horrified and half-insulted.

“I know it. That was my dad’s partner. They worked together for thirty years. He responded to a domestic disturbance call at my house one night when I was about ten. Wrote the report up and everything. Disturbance caused by fall down the stairs.”

Kelly slowed and glanced over his shoulder.

“My dad’s friends all know that if I could kill people with the power of my mind, my dad would have been the first to go.”

Kelly snorted angrily. “What, they think you filled your liver with hate before you gave it to him?”

Nick chuckled, shaking his head as he continued to stare devotedly at the ground. He tightened his grip on Kelly’s arm, and Kelly moved closer to him as they walked toward the car.

“Maybe I did,” Nick murmured after a few seconds of silence.

“Nick.”

“I’d be okay with it,” he admitted. He slowed as the pain in his knee swelled, and he had to stand there for a moment with his eyes closed, waiting for it to pass. He’d eventually need surgery to repair the damage that had been done by a vicious kick. The orthopedist wanted him fully healed from his other injuries first, though, and so he was left to limp around and live on painkillers until then.

For a man who’d spent his entire life being active and relying on his dominant physical capabilities day in and day out, it was possibly the most frustrating state of being he could imagine.

“Okay?” Kelly whispered.

Nick took a deep breath, gazing at Kelly.

Kelly raised an eyebrow, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “What?”

“I love you,” Nick said, but the words came out a whisper, as if the mere thought had stolen them before they could form.

Kelly grinned a little wider and slid his arm around Nick’s waist again, squeezing him as they continued on toward the car.

Shock & Awe #1
Kelly had to lean against the railing of his front porch while Nick dealt with the lock and the alarm to his cabin. He pressed his hand to his chest, resting his palm over the healing bullet wound just under his left pectoral. It had been a long plane ride, even in first class, and the hour-long trip from the airport hadn’t been much better on him. He was exhausted, and all he wanted was his own bed.

Nick left the luggage at the door and hustled inside to turn off the beeping alarm. Kelly didn’t have to tell him the code. They all knew where the keys to their castles were: Ty’s and Owen’s security codes, Nick’s yacht, and a mental map of Digger’s bayou booby traps.

The beeping from inside stopped, and Nick returned to roll the luggage out of the way. Kelly wrapped his arm over Nick’s shoulders, and they hobbled through the front door. He could walk on his own when they’d left the hospital in New Orleans, but after so much travel, he wasn’t actually sure he could anymore.

“Thanks for doing this, bud,” Kelly muttered.

“Hey,” Nick grunted. “We both know you took that bullet for me. Least I can do is get you home.”

Kelly didn’t argue. He couldn’t claim he’d taken the bullet on purpose, but if he hadn’t been there, it would have lodged in Nick’s head, and they both knew how that would have ended. He leaned on Nick until they reached the worn leather recliner in the living room, but he hesitated as Nick tried to help lower him into it.

“What’s wrong?”

Kelly laughed. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to get out of this thing if I get down.”

“It’s not like you’re going anywhere.” Nick tightened his grip on Kelly’s waist and eased him into the recliner. “And I’m not carrying your ass upstairs right now, so sit.”

“You’re a horrible nursemaid.”

Nick pulled the handle on the side of the chair and shot Kelly’s legs out.

As soon as the chair stopped wobbling, Kelly closed his eyes and relaxed into its familiar folds. He listened to Nick banging around, bringing their luggage inside, going through the refrigerator. Nick gasped and closed the refrigerator door quickly. They’d been gone a long time; Kelly had no doubt what the inside of that thing smelled like.

Nick finally came back into the living room with a glass of water. “You ready for meds? I’m going to put you to sleep and go get some groceries. And . . . maybe some rubber gloves.”

Kelly mustered a smile. “Sounds good.”

Nick tapped one of the painkillers into his palm and grinned. “Bank shot?”

Kelly opened his mouth, and Nick tossed a pill into it, then another, snickering as he handed Kelly the glass of water. He threw a blanket over him, put the television remote and his cell phone within reach, then patted Kelly’s head.

“I’ll be back before you wake up.”

Kelly closed his eyes, relaxing so the pills could to do their work. He knew he didn’t have anything to worry about as long as Nick was on the job.

*****

When Kelly awoke, it was to the sound of humming and the smell of bacon frying and a hint of Lysol. It took him a moment to remember where he was and why he was sore. He stared at Nick, who was curled on the couch a few feet away with a book.

“Hey,” he said, his voice hoarse.

Nick jerked, glancing up at him. He set his book aside and scooted forward, but he didn’t stand. “You okay? Need more pills.”

“No, I’m good. What’s that sound?”

Nick went still and listened briefly, then shook his head. “I don’t hear anything.”

Kelly held his breath and realized the humming sound had faded. So had the smell. “Are you cooking bacon?”

Nick began to chuckle, then fought hard to stop. “No. Do you want me to be?”

“No. Yeah. Wait, no, no.”

Nick waited patiently, still smiling.

Kelly just stared at him, trying to get his brain to work. He wasn’t sure if he was hallucinating, if his brain had picked up on all the things Nick had been doing while he’d slept and then replayed them to him, or if he was just losing his mind. He wasn’t sure he cared, though, because now that he was fully awake, he was in pain again. “Okay, I need another pill,” he finally said. Nick reached for the pill bottle. “But half of it this time. I’m tired of you laughing at me for being drugged.”

Nick merely nodded as he fished a pill out. He broke it and popped one half into his mouth before handing the other to Kelly.

“What the hell, O’Flaherty?” Kelly asked, laughing despite how much it hurt to do so.

“Consider it payment for services rendered,” Nick said as he took a sip of Kelly’s water. Kelly gaped. Nick laughed harder and handed Kelly a whole pill to add to the half. “It’s like a step above Tylenol, don’t hurt yourself.”

Kelly was still chuckling while he tried to down the painkillers.

“You think you’re going to be more comfortable here or in your bed tonight?”

Kelly peered at the darkened windows. He dreaded nighttime, because that was when he hurt more and slept fitfully. There was never anything on TV to entertain him in the wee hours when he was wide awake, and he’d sped through all the books he had access to. It also got lonely, because he wasn’t about to keep Nick awake at night as well as depend on him during the day. “Is it that time already?”

Nick shrugged. “Close enough.”

“Well. If I sleep here, you can have my bed.”

“Doc, if you sleep here I’ll be on the couch in case you need me. If you sleep upstairs, I’ll make a pallet on the floor.”

“Promise not to roll in your sleep, and I’ll share the bed.”

Nick gave him an easy smile and stood. “Worth a try. I’ve promised more for a bed.”

“You whore,” Kelly said, grinning as he slid his arm around Nick’s neck and held tight for Nick to help him stand.

Once he was out of the recliner, he shuffled off to the bathroom on the ground floor. He could hear Nick lugging the suitcases up the steps to the loft bedroom of the cabin. Kelly was beyond grateful Nick had insisted he come with Kelly until he was well enough to fend for himself. Otherwise he didn’t like to think where he’d be stuck, or who would be stuck taking care of him. Nick was using every last hour of vacation time the Boston PD gave him to be here.

It took them a full five minutes to get Kelly up the stairs, mostly because they had to keep stopping to laugh at the absurdity of it, and by the time he eased onto the edge of his bed, they were both out of breath.

Kelly looked up at Nick and grinned. “Bet you never worked this hard to get a guy in bed, have you?”

“Not physically, no,” Nick grunted. He pulled back the covers and arranged the pillows for support, then Kelly wrapped an arm around his neck and Nick leaned over him as he eased him into the bed.

Kelly had to squeeze his eyes closed against the pull. It wasn’t really pain anymore, but there was some serious discomfort when he twisted and stretched, and the muscles were weak. Anything that forced him to use his core was still too much for him. He had to be careful or stitches and staples would tear loose.

Nick was still hovering over him when he opened his eyes. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Kelly gasped. He cleared his throat. “That might not have been worth the effort.”

Nick grinned crookedly. “Well that’s the first time I’ve heard that before.”

Kelly made a derogatory sound and closed his eyes again. Nick pulled away, then gently covered him with the sheet.

Kelly may have been the corpsman, but Nick had always been the caretaker of the group. He’d been a wingman, fall guy, sounding board, and alibi. He’d been mother, father, big brother, and crazy uncle. Whatever they’d needed. He’d always been the one who’d made sure all the Sidewinder ducks were in a row, and he was probably the sole reason the house they’d all shared in Jacksonville hadn’t burned down.

It was so odd to think back on all those years and know that Nick had been hiding part of himself he thought he couldn’t share. It almost broke Kelly’s heart to think of all the secrets he’d spilled to Nick, all the things he’d gotten off his chest, but Nick had never been able to do the same.

Kelly opened his eyes to watch Nick. He was dragging Kelly’s suitcase toward the armoire. “How’d you make the jump, anyway?” Kelly asked. He had to close his eyes again as exhaustion threatened.

“What jump?”

“I mean, were you always into guys and just hid it? Were all the girls we chased together just a cover, or . . .”

“No,” Nick said quickly. Kelly opened one eye to see Nick clearing off the table beside the bed. He was smirking as he spoke. “I consider myself equal opportunity.”

Kelly watched him curiously. Over the years, Kelly had seen Nick’s charisma and easy manner pull more barroom trysts than Ty and Digger combined. Sometimes it almost seemed like he did it by accident. Of course, that was all part of Nick’s charm. A lot of what he did seemed accidental, which had contributed to other Marines calling him Lucky for much of his career. But Kelly knew better. Nick’s methods were very deliberate, and his results were anything but luck.

Nick was a fascinating person, and Kelly had always thought so. When he’d first joined the team, Ty and Nick had been quite intimidating. Fiercely loyal to each other, dangerously protective of each other, and so close they could finish each other’s sentences and communicate without words. Once Kelly had proven himself worthy, he’d been afforded the same loyalty from both men. With Ty, it was like being surrounded by a barricade of barbed wire and mines. Nick’s loyalty felt more like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Everything about Nick felt warm, even the thought of him, and ever since Nick had come out to him, Kelly had wondered what that meant for him.

What did it mean that Kelly knew he would choose Nick over anyone else if a gun was put to his head? What did it mean that Nick’s calls or texts always left him feeling both happy and melancholy all at the same time? What did it mean when his heart dropped into his toes as he’d listened to Nick confess that he’d been in love with Ty for over a decade?

Even now the thought sent a pang through his chest that made his wound throb and ache. He placed his hand over it.

“What’s it like?” he asked suddenly.

Nick glanced over at him as he slid the lamp away from the bed and laid out Kelly’s pill bottles, bandages, and other necessities. “What’s what like?”

“Being with a guy.” He looked Nick up and down, trying to imagine. Would Nick be the same with a man as he was with a woman? Because Kelly had seen that, and it had looked fun. “Is it different?”

Nick shrugged and nodded. “Sort of, yeah. Physically? Definitely. Relationships, though, it depends a lot on who you’re with.” He glanced at Kelly and raised an eyebrow, smiling. “You a little bi-curious, Doc?”

Kelly laughed again, holding his side in a wasted attempt to keep it from hurting. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Nick teased. “Either you’re curious or you’re not.”

“I guess. I mean, I like sex.”

“Granted,” Nick mumbled, still smiling.

“I never thought about it before.” That was a damn lie. “But hell, if you can do it, so can I, right?”

Nick placed his hand on Kelly’s forehead, holding it there briefly before patting him and then moving away. He headed for the bathroom, probably making sure the path from Kelly’s side of the bed was clear.

“And a beautiful person is a beautiful person, so why not open up that door to more opportunities?” Kelly called after him, desperate to have him return so they could continue the conversation.

“I think you’re omnivorous,” Nick said, his voice echoing off the tile and into the bedroom.

Kelly laughed again. He rested back to watch Nick move around the room. He was like a mother hen, prepping the nest. He moved the chair from the corner to the middle of the room, a convenient place for Kelly to get to and rest if he needed to. He went to the armoire beside the bathroom door and pulled out several extra pillows, putting pillowcases on them and tossing them on the bed. He was going to use them as a barrier between himself and Kelly as they slept, to protect Kelly’s wound from any stray limbs.

Kelly found himself wishing those pillows wouldn’t be there tonight. He didn’t know why. Painkillers? Knowing Nick was bi and having the nerve to ask questions? Watching Ty and Zane and the connection they obviously shared while in New Orleans? Kelly had never felt that with his ex-wife, not once, but he’d certainly felt it with brothers-in-arms. Maybe it was a perfect storm of factors, but Kelly was definitely curious. Asking Nick these questions had given him a little rush too. Nick gave him a little rush.

He had always been closest to Nick. Nick had been Kelly’s best man at his wedding. He’d also been the one who’d taken him in briefly after he’d divorced. They were very much alike in temperament, compared to the others who were all fire and stone. He and Nick were water and smoke: patient and nebulous and easy.

“I’m going to take a shower,” Nick said as he threw the last spare pillow on the bed. “You want anything from downstairs first?”

Kelly’s breath quickened, and he blurted it out before he could think twice. “Why Ty?”

Nick stopped short and cocked his head as if he hadn’t heard right. “What?”

“When you came out to me, you told me you’d been in love with Ty,” Kelly explained. He held his breath, telling himself the answer would probably make his wound throb again and he didn’t really want to know. “Why Ty?”

Nick blushed and lowered his head, chewing on his lip. He shrugged. “He was . . . like this big shining beacon. For a long time I was a little in love with the idea of him. The idea of that kind of loyalty and trust for the rest of your life, you know? I think it was mostly just being young and wanting to believe in something. You know Ty. He was easy to believe in.”

Kelly nodded. “Are you still in love with him?”

Nick was already shaking his head. He came around the other side of the bed and sat, leaning against the headboard so Kelly couldn’t see his face without twisting. “We went through too much. Nothing romantic about it. And the night I kissed him, the night I told you about everything, there was nothing there. We would have worked if we’d wanted to, I guess, if we’d never found anything else. But . . .” He shrugged and shook his head.

Kelly turned to try to see Nick’s face. “So there’s nothing left there?”

“Nah. It’s kind of a relief. Life changes what love means, you know? What I felt about Ty, it was a different kind of love.”

“Have you found something else?” Kelly asked carefully, surprised by how nervous the question made him.

Nick looked at him oddly. “I don’t know. Why are you asking me these things? This isn’t some sort of post-gunshot meltdown, is it, ’cause I’m not built to handle those.”

Kelly began to snicker, holding his chest so it wouldn’t hurt. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“If it is, we’ll call Owen; he’s good at the meltdown stuff.”

“I’m not having a meltdown,” Kelly assured him. “Are you seeing anyone?”

Nick was silent, sitting there and looking confused for a few seconds before answering. “Sort of. We haven’t had a date or anything, but we’re . . . actually, I’m not sure what we are.”

The indecisive answer bolstered Kelly’s courage and relieved him, which was an odd sensation. “Hey, Irish?”

Nick turned to him, the beginnings of a smile on his face.

“Will you kiss me?”

The smile faded into wide-eyed shock. Nick’s eyes were so green he almost looked like a cartoon. Kelly began to laugh. He had to hold his hand over his wound, but he couldn’t stop laughing. He reached out to put his other hand on Nick’s arm. “I’m sorry I’m laughing,” he wheezed. “It’s the drugs, I swear.”

Nick snorted and gently peeled Kelly’s fingers off his forearm. “From now on you only get halves,” he mumbled. He slid off the bed, beginning to chuckle.

“Wait!”

Nick turned, trying to look annoyed but still laughing. Kelly schooled his features, frowning dramatically. “I’m serious,” he managed to say.

“Yeah, you look it,” Nick drawled.

“I want you to kiss me.”

Nick examined him, seeming dubious.

“I want to know what it feels like to kiss a guy. And you’ve had a lot of practice, so I know you’re a good kisser.”

“Are you simultaneously complimenting me and calling me a whore?”

“I’m . . . I’m just impressed you can take half a Percocet and say simul . . . simultaneous.”

Nick sighed heavily, fighting back his smile. He came around the end of the bed and sat next to Kelly’s hip, turning to hover over him. “Okay.”

Kelly was surprised when his stomach flipped, but he liked the feeling. “Okay what?”

“Okay. If you want me to kiss you, I will.”

“Really?”

Nick nodded. “But only if you can sit up on your own, and then pass a field sobriety test.”

Kelly rolled his eyes and snorted. “You’re such a dick.”

“I’ll give you that too if you want it,” Nick said, laughing as he pushed off the bed and headed for the loft steps.

Kelly watched him, trying to decide if the flip in his stomach was excitement or nerves. “Hey!”

Nick stopped at the head of the staircase and turned again, ever patient.

“I’m serious,” Kelly said.

Nick’s eyes narrowed, and he remained there for a few moments before he moved slowly back to the bed. “You really want me to kiss you?”

“Yes.”

“So you’ll know what it feels like to kiss a guy.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well you and Ty both seem to enjoy it. What’s good for you is good for me, right?”

“That’s a horrible reason.”

“Really?”

Nick sat down again, close enough that the mattress dipped and Kelly slid toward him. They stared at each other for a few seconds, Kelly holding his breath as Nick thought it through. He was curious, because he knew locking lips with another dude had to be different from kissing a woman, and he was by nature an inquisitive person. He was open to trying just about anything once, and he’d always kind of been on the fence about it. But he was also wondering what it would be like to kiss Nick, and that had nothing to do with the painkillers or his innate desire to try new things.

“Okay,” Nick said quietly. He adjusted the way he was sitting, propping one hand on Kelly’s other side as he leaned over him.

Kelly held up a finger. “No half-assed middle school kissing, either.”

“Okay.”

“I want the whole deal.”

“This is starting to feel like I’m leasing a car or something.”

“I’m serious, I want the Irish special.”

Nick rolled his eyes and glanced up at the ceiling. “Fine. Jesus.”

Kelly nodded, his lips twitching on a smile and his chest fluttering. They stared at each other as Nick leaned over him, and it was harder for Kelly to catch his breath as he waited for Nick to make his move. He licked his lips.

Nick finally laughed. “Close your eyes.”

“Why?”

“’Cause I can’t do this with you looking at me.”

Kelly gave a long-suffering sigh, but he closed his eyes anyway, still fighting a smile. He felt Nick lean closer, and he inhaled sharply, holding his breath as Nick’s lips brushed the corner of his mouth.

He parted his lips and tilted his head, their noses bumping as Nick moved the same way. They both laughed and Kelly cocked his head the other way, dragging his lower lip across Nick’s as they adjusted. Then Nick was kissing him. Really kissing him. His lips parted, tongue darting between them to lick at Kelly’s lips. His teeth closed over Kelly’s lower lip and dragged before his tongue slipped inside Kelly’s mouth.

They both moaned.

Kelly reached up and grabbed a handful of Nick’s shirt, barely realizing he’d done it. His knuckles knocked against hard muscles. Nick’s hand came up to Kelly’s face, brushing his cheek tentatively as if he wasn’t sure he was allowed to touch. Kelly nipped at his lip, and Nick groaned again. He pushed his hand under Kelly’s head and clutched at his hair.

The stubble on Nick’s chin scratched against Kelly’s cheek. Nick leaned more on top of him, his hands clamping down in the kind of grip Kelly had never felt from a lover. The kiss was more forceful and demanding than any he’d ever experienced, and he found himself using his tongue and his teeth to fight back, even as he pulled Nick closer to urge him on.

Kelly’s hand pressed against Nick’s chest, and it wasn’t even odd that there was nothing but muscle to grab there. He moaned again, and the sound traveled through his body, awakening the rest of him to the moment, to the scent of guns instead of roses, the brush of leather instead of lace.

Kelly gasped as Nick began to pull away. He didn’t have the strength yet to sit up to follow. Their lips dragged as they separated. Nick’s fingers released Kelly’s hair and slid out from under him as he pushed himself up. Kelly finally opened his eyes, but he didn’t let go of Nick’s shirt. His heart was hammering and his mind was churning, making him light-headed.

“Well,” Kelly finally breathed. “No shit.”

Nick laughed and ran his thumb across his lip. Kelly knew him well enough to know when Nick was nervous, and he was nervous now. He tightened his grip on Nick’s shirt to keep him from getting up. Nick turned hesitant green eyes on him, waiting for his verdict. Kelly had never really appreciated the color of Nick’s eyes.

“Do that again,” he whispered.

Nick took in a deep breath and then let it out slowly, like he was trying to calm himself. He patted Kelly’s hand, taking it in his and gently extricating his shirt. “Let’s just let that one settle with the Percocet, okay?”

He made to stand, and Kelly was forced to let him go.

“Yeah, okay.”

Nick was walking away, running a hand through his hair, and Kelly realized his entire body was still buzzing. It might have been from the painkillers, but he was willing to place bets on his buddy right now.

It was the same feeling he got when his phone rang. The same feeling as waking up in the hospital to find Nick holding his hand. The same warmth of a blanket wrapping around his shoulders, and something inside him screamed for him to pursue it.

“Hey, Nick,” he whispered.

Nick stopped and rolled his neck, like he might have been irritated by Kelly’s repeated attempts to keep him from descending the stairs. He turned, though, the same easy smile on his face, his feelings masked by his legendary patience.

“Is the rest of it like that too?” Kelly asked.

Nick ran his teeth across his lip, beginning to nod. “Isn’t it always if you have the right dance partner?”

Kelly stared at him, finding himself nodding. Jesus, was it possible he was considering Nick O’Flaherty a dance partner right now? Yes. Yes, he was.

“You’re not going to ask me to fuck you now, are you?” Nick asked, deadpan.

Kelly began to laugh. “The thought was crossing my mind.”

Nick’s smile faded. “Are you serious?”

“Sort of. You got the engine revved a little.”

Nick rolled his eyes and turned toward the stairs. “Put him back in the garage then. I don’t drive automatics,” he said as he thumped down the stairs.

*****

Nick woke with a jerk as a hand grabbed at his arm. He peered over in the moonlight. “You okay?”

“I need to move,” Kelly grunted.

They’d shared enough beds—and floors—over the years that Nick knew Kelly slept on his side. Being forced to sleep flat on his back made him restless and miserable, but he hadn’t recovered the strength in his torso yet to roll onto his side without help or something to grab onto and pull.

Nick fumbled for the pillows he’d stacked between them and tossed them to the foot of the bed, rolling onto his side and holding his arm out. “Come on.”

Kelly used Nick’s forearm to pull himself to his side, and as soon as he was settled, Nick took the spare pillows and wedged them behind Kelly’s back to rest against. He was hyperaware of how close he was, of his breaths hitting Kelly’s cheek as he reached across him. Goddammit, why had he even agreed to that kiss in the first place? Now the next day or so would be awkward as hell as he tried to forget how fucking good Kelly felt in his arms.

Once he was certain there was support behind Kelly, he took the pillow he’d been using and pushed it against Kelly’s chest to give him something to hold.

“I don’t need that,” Kelly mumbled. He shoved the pillow back toward the head of the bed.

Nick scowled. “You always hold something when you sleep.”

“I’m not taking your pillow. Quit it.”

Nick huffed and laid back down, facing Kelly. He watched him for several minutes, alert for signs of pain or misery, waiting for his breathing to even out. It didn’t though, and finally Kelly opened his eyes again.

“You hurting?” Nick asked him.

“A little. Not enough to take anything. I just can’t sleep.”

Nick remained silent, waiting for Kelly to go on. If he needed to get something off his chest, he would. And Nick had a feeling he knew exactly what Kelly needed to discuss.

“It was a good kiss,” Kelly finally said.

Nick huffed a laugh. “Yes, it was.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I’m a fabulous kisser and you’re easy.”

Kelly rolled his eyes.

Nick watched and waited, but finally he got tired of the weighty silence. “Are you asking me if it means you’re gay if you liked one kiss?”

“Maybe.”

“Well, I don’t have any answers. I’m leaning toward no.”

Kelly sighed loudly. “I still want you to do it again. Does that matter?”

Nick’s chest fluttered. He had to fight for enough breath to answer. “You mean does it matter in the grand scheme of things?”

“I mean does it matter to you?”

Nick caught his breath, afraid to break the silence as they stared across the dim inches. He had spent years trying to avoid thinking of his closest friends in a sexual way. It had been especially difficult with Kelly at first, because they were both touchy-feely people. Eventually, years of camaraderie had whitewashed the physical nature of their friendship, but that one fucking kiss had taken down those mental barriers in a heartbeat. Did it matter to him that Kelly might be struggling with his sexual identity after all these years? Yes. Did it matter to him that Kelly had chosen him to try to help him answer those questions? Yes.

Did it matter to him that he wanted nothing more than to grab Kelly’s face and kiss him again until neither of them could breathe, that he wanted to feel Kelly’s body against his now, that his mind had gone into overdrive and couldn’t seem to stop spinning the moment Kelly’s fingers had grasped at his T-shirt? Did it matter that Kelly was saying he wanted the same thing? “It does matter to me.”

“Will you give me more?” Kelly whispered.

Nick let out his pent-up breath and closed his eyes, shaking his head. Something akin to terror streaked through him, followed swiftly by lust. Giving Kelly more would mean ramifications neither of them could deal with. It would mean altering the state of their friendship, risking it, and for what?

“I’m not under the influence anymore. Much. Even if I was, I’ve done things way worse than you that I’ve never regretted.”

Nick barked a laugh, and they both began to chuckle. Suddenly the tension was gone again and it was just the Devil Doc in bed with him once more. Kelly reached across the space between them and brushed his fingers over Nick’s knuckles. A scar on the back of Nick’s hand still displayed the tiny railroad tracks where Kelly had stitched a gash in the field. He ran his fingers across it. There were half a dozen other places on Nick’s body that he’d stitched up over the years. Nick knew his hands well. He’d never seen them as anything but healing hands, though, not until the moment Kelly’s fingers had clutched at his shirt and pulled him closer as they’d kissed.

Author Bio:
Abigail Roux was born and raised in North Carolina. A past volleyball star who specializes in sarcasm and painful historical accuracy, she currently spends her time coaching high school volleyball and investigating the mysteries of single motherhood. Any spare time is spent living and dying with every Atlanta Braves and Carolina Panthers game of the year. Abigail has a daughter, Little Roux, who is the light of her life, a boxer, four rescued cats who play an ongoing live-action variation of 'Call of Duty' throughout the house, a certifiable extended family down the road, and a cast of thousands in her head.


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